ASEANelation for the West | Latest news The Moscow Post
04 December 2022

ASEANelation for the West

The US "defense" line is shifting southeast.

On November 15-16, a G20 summit will be held on the Indonesian island of Bali. Russian President Vladimir Putin will not take part in this meeting, this is due to the schedule of events and the need is in Russia. The delegation will be headed by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, according to The Moscow Post.

Before the G20 summit, the East Asian Summit (EAC) was held in Phnom Penh, in which Sergey Lavrov also took part. The Russian Foreign Minister described the super task facing Russia and China:... " We defend the expediency and the need to preserve the formats that were created around ASEAN, defend the need to maintain the central role that ASEAN plays in the future, but the West has its own plans, "the minister said at a briefing following his participation in the East Asian Summit.

Lavrov also said that Russia stated at the EAC summit its dissatisfaction with the fact that the United States and its allies "the so-called defense line is already shifting to the South China Sea." Moreover, the Russian and Chinese positions, as Lavrov emphasized, coincide on this issue.

And that's not all. The APEC Forum will be held in Bangkok on November 18-19, where Russia will be represented by First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov. The US-led West is ready to move political confrontation to the G20 platform instead of solving world problems. This opinion was made by the Chinese newspaper Global Times. It cannot be ruled out that this may happen again at the economic forum in Thailand.

Course-Asia, rates rise

The SEA region has always been important economically and politically. The states forming it occupy a huge territory at the intersection of maritime trade routes and the strategic interests of the leading powers. The total population of the region exceeds 662 million people. If the region's economy were unified, then in terms of gross domestic product (GDP), the SEA would occupy the fifth place in the world. According to 2021 data, the GDP of ten ASEAN countries amounted to $3.1 trillion and may grow this year by another 5%.

The region has become one of the engines of global growth, a link in international and regional supply chains. Inflows of foreign direct investment into ASEAN rose from $120 billion a year in 2013-15 to $174 billion in 2021.

Exports of ASEAN countries outside "their region" in 2020 amounted to $1.09 trillion. About a quarter of exports go to the PRC market. Imports from countries outside the region reached $1 trillion in 2020. A third of purchases are in China.

The role of the PRC in the economy of this part of the Asia-Pacific region (APR), as well as the prospect of a large-scale, post-perestroika "return" of Russia to this region, make the West, especially the United States and Japan, nervous. And the waves of this tension have been felt especially keenly in recent days, when the leaders of the "golden billion" countries tried to strengthen their position, pushing back China and Russia.

Political "strip" from Biden

There is a struggle for influence in the region. Washington is restoring ties with Vietnam, trying to establish relations with ASEAN in order to counteract China's growing influence. The US interest in the region can be understood: in 2019, ASEAN was America's fourth largest market, exports amounted to $86 billion, imports rose to $206.3 billion, the deficit in trade in goods reached $120.2 billion.

Going to Asia from the climatic summit of COP27 in Egypt, Biden emphasized that "the ASEAN is the cornerstone of the Indo-Pacific strategy" the White House (anti-Chinese in a basis), called partnership with Association "the beginning of a new era", increased the level of the relations to "comprehensive strategic partnership". At the same time Washington coordinates the actions with Australia, Japan, South Korea, other countries.

Americans as the conventional kings of a show and masters of slogans, support the plans with own and collective financial opportunities. So, he added 850 million more dollars to 150 million dollars which were promised by Biden at the special summit with leaders of ASEAN in Washington in May, being in Phnom Penh.

Japan adapts to these plans. "Next year 50 years of friendship and cooperation between Japan and ASEAN are executed, and I suggest to make the decision on holding a special summit in Tokyo, somewhere in December of the next year", - the Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida sounded.

According to JETRO, trade between Japan and ASEAN in 2019 made 214 billion dollars, at the same time the Japanese import (108 billion dollars) exceeded export (106 billion dollars). Tokyo also allocated to ASEAN about 2 billion dollars for restoration after a pandemic.

In 2021 the export of South Korea to the countries of ASEAN made about 109 billion dollars, import grew to 68 billion dollars. The president of South Korea Jun Suk told the Fir-tree at the summit of "ACEAH+3" about "food security and an energy crisis", called the Southeast Asian countries for solidarity, obviously, under the American leaders.

Australia which is almost bordering on Indonesia suggested to hold the special bilateral summit in 2024 too, too promised 315 million dollars on programs of economic development of members of Association. The head of the government Anthony Albanese assured that Canberra will force economic development of the region and reported that he founded a position of the special adviser for communications with the countries of Southeast Asia.

Big China, is more difficult for it

But Southeast Asia considers China the main trade partner. In 2021 the ASEAN took the second year in a row the place of the largest trade partner of the People's Republic of China. Goods turnover of China and ASEAN in a year grew by 19.7%, having exceeded 700 billion dollars.

For the first four months 2022 the external goods turnover of China and ASEAN was 1.84 trillion yuans, having increased by 7.5% in a year and having been 14.6% of the total amount of foreign trade of China. Export from China in on the markets of ASEAN grew to 1.03 trillion yuans, growth grew 8.7%, import from ASEAN reached 809 billion yuans, growth reached 5.3%.

China is an important investor in infrastructure and energy projects within the Belt and Way program. The fund of support of large infrastructure projects is for this purpose created. In Cambodia for 2 billion dollars the high-speed highway connecting Phnom Penh and the seaport of Sihanoukville is built.

China, trades and invests in region infrastructure "largely", compelling the USA and allies to promote development of the region too. A platitude in the western media of steel of charge is that the loans granted by Beijing to the ASEAN countries within the Belt and Way program are opaque and conduct the countries of the region in "debt traps". It is clear, that it is aimed at distances of ASEAN from Beijing.

The South China Sea presents for this purpose the convenient tool too. Beijing conducts several decades disputes with neighboring countries concerning territorial accessory of certain islands on which shelf there are reserves of hydrocarbons. First of all it is about the archipelago of Sisha (Paracel Islands), the islands of Nansha (Spratly) and Huangyan (reef of Scarborough). Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and Philippines are involved in disputes.

Beijing managed to soften these friction, interacting in the China — ASEAN format and reacting to provocations of the USA collaboration over the Code of behavior in the South China Sea. The People's Republic of China is aimed at comprehensive partnership with Vietnam and other countries of ASEAN, urges to resolve controversial issues within regional talks and for the sake of "ensuring national well-being" — the slogan clear for politicians of the Southeast Asian countries.

The prime minister of the State Council of KNN Li Keqiang suggested the Vietnamese colleague to simplify Fam Min Chinyu procedures of border control, to increase quantity of direct flights between China and Vietnam, to intensify interaction in the field of infrastructure construction. He declared the aspiration of the People's Republic of China to increase trade scales with Vietnam.

India, Vietnam and ASEAN

India has become one of ASEAN's main strategic partners, along with Russia and China. India's exports to the SEA region in the 2021-22 financial year amounted to $42 billion, imports from ASEAN countries decreased by $20 billion over the year to $47 billion. ASEAN-India Trade in Goods Agreement (AITIGA) is supposed to be concluded in the field of trade and economic relations.

India cannot but reckon with the economic dominance of the PRC in the SEA region, invites ASEAN countries to move towards a comprehensive, significant and mutually beneficial strategic partnership. This is stated in a joint statement following the results of the 19th ASEAN-India summit held in Phnom Penh on Saturday. At the same time, Hanoi received $500 million from India to develop defense cooperation.

In terms of population and economic potential, Vietnam shares the second place in ASEAN with the Philippines after Indonesia, but is ahead of everyone in the region in terms of growth rates exceeding 7% per year. Vietnam's GDP in 2022 is estimated at almost $400 billion, per capita income is more than $4,000, foreign trade has grown to almost $670 billion, the country is included in this indicator in the group of 20 leading economies in the world. Exports reached a record $336 billion in 2021, up 19% from the previous year.

The fate of the US Indo-Pacific Strategy, aimed at blocking China and isolating Russia, will largely depend on how the interaction will develop within the India-Vietnam-China triangle. So far, the parties have confirmed the central role of ASEAN in the region, announced their intention to deepen dialogue and coordination on issues of "peace, stability, maritime security, freedom of navigation and flight in the region, other legal uses of the seas and unhindered legal maritime trade, as well as promoting the peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with generally recognized principles of international law," - noted in a joint statement by India and ASEAN.

The parties agreed to promote cooperation at sea, including in the field of security, countering piracy and armed robbery, in search and rescue operations, disaster management, emergency response, as indicated in the text of the statement. Ibid., the text expressed the intention to expand cooperation in the field of digital economy and financial technologies, transport and communications in the land, air and maritime areas, including through the completion of the construction and commissioning of the India-Myanmar-Thailand highway. There are plans to extend this transport corridor to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Interests of Russia

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held meetings on the sidelines of the EAC with colleagues from Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. In Bali, he will also have conversations, including with colleagues from the Indonesian Foreign Ministry. During the Russian-ASEAN summit, held in October 2021, it was noted that the positions of Russia and the Association on key global and regional problems are largely close. For Russia, ASEAN is important both in terms of regional stability and as a growing market and promising partner.

In connection with the 30th anniversary of the establishment of relations, the Comprehensive Action Plan for 2021-2025 was adopted, which supplemented the Joint Statement on Strategic Partnership, which crowned the third summit of the Russian Federation - ASEAN, held in 2018. The new plan was adopted taking into account the ASEAN Vision 2025: Together for the Future program.

In 2005, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the SCO Secretariat and the ASEAN Secretariat. The comprehensive action plan also provides for the possibility of cooperation between ASEAN and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), as well as ASEAN and SCO.

The trade turnover between Russia and the countries of the Association in 2021 increased by 27.5% and reached $20 billion, said the head of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation Sergei Katyrin, speaking at the Eastern Economic Forum-2022. There are prospects for establishing mutually beneficial relations. Almost all economies in the region are energy-dependent. Indonesia exports coal and LNG, produces oil, but imports petroleum products. Malaysia - Produces oil and gas, exports LNG and imports oil and petroleum products. Thailand - produces gas, imports LNG, oil and oil products. Myanmar exports natural gas, depends on the import of petroleum products. The Philippines is entirely dependent on imports of petroleum products. Vietnam is a net importer of coal and oil with the prospect of becoming an LNG importer.

The Far East of the Russian Federation, the Arctic with the Northern Sea Route, like other regions, are looking for their place in the Asia-Pacific region, and are exploring the ASEAN market. Opportunities for Russian oil and gas and energy companies, like Rosatom, exist. The region is forming the largest industrial and production belt, superior in power to the potential of the EU and the United States. Russia should be embedded in the system of division of labor that has developed between China, Japan, South Korea, ASEAN and India.

"Russia is perhaps the brightest representative of countries that accelerate rapprochement with the Far East. From this point of view, Western sanctions... will create a new [Russia], which will abandon illusions about the West and even deeper into the East, gain a new self and reap all the benefits of joint growth, "said Professor Wang Wen, Dean of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies of the Chinese People's University.

Photo: Press Service of the Russian Foreign Ministry

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